Books from the Pantry: Athletes Who Rock by Motez Bishara reviewed by Kev Milsom

‘During the interviews, I would often return to fundamental questions that explored the rarefied air these people occupy. How does it feel to be unstoppable on the basketball court, baseball field or tennis arena?  And what is it like to be grooving on stage, to a point where you and your audience are travelling together on an unpredictable journey?’ Motez Bishara

As a lifelong devotee of cricket (For American readers who wonder what on Earth cricket is, imagine baseball on Valium), I distinctly recall watching a recent TV programme about the former English batsman, Mark Butcher. Expecting a fascinating hour of listening to Mark enthusing solely about his county and international cricket career, I was amazed as he picked up a guitar and proceeded to both play and sing Dylan’s classic, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ with high, professional expertise. I’m not quite sure if I was more shocked or impressed, but it certainly got me thinking about my own youth, where playing sports and creating music were my two most important goals; along with realising (in hindsight) these were the two moments in life when I became most focused and relaxed. I definitely wish that I had practised a heck of a lot more, so I could have hopefully kept up with Mark Butcher’s considerable skills as both an international batsman and more-than-adept guitarist/singer. Therefore, when I became aware of Motez Bishara’s new book, Athletes Who Rock, I was naturally drawn to the author’s creative concept. 

Across the two hundred and forty-one pages, Motez reveals his long standing fascination for those talented individuals who can excel both within a sporting environment and also achieve musical prowess.

Motez begins the book with an exploration of the psychological ‘flow state’ that strongly occurs within those who play sports and music to the highest levels. The late, Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934 – 2021) identified this flow as, ‘(A state of) being involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and you’re using your skills to the utmost’.

Flicking through each of the chapters, it’s a joy to observe that none of the individuals’ stories lack depth, energy and passion. For example, former professional surfer, Lindsay Perry, had a difficult time growing up; losing her mother and sister in a car accident and an aunt to murder when Lindsay was just eighteen. She says, ‘My therapy was the ocean and surfing…to not think about the things that I had just gone through’. Her career as a surfer went from strength to strength and, for years the sport allowed her to generate a healthy income. However, since the age of fourteen, Lindsay had also immersed herself into learning to play guitar and focusing on creating music. After retiring from surfing and modelling, she focused her considerable energy into music. When asked the inevitable question of ‘which gives the greatest thrill?’ her answer is honest. ‘A high is a high. Your adrenaline is your adrenaline. Now the adrenaline I get is being on stage in front of a full crowd. I can substitute missing out on surfing for that high I get from a crowd’. And what about the determination and drive that it took to be good at both sports and music? Again, her answer is honest. ‘When my mom passed away she was forty and not able to do a lot of things. I want to be the best at anything I can be so that I can create a legacy for her. She didn’t get to see any of those things. I didn’t even know she wanted to be a model. So, it’s pretty cool that I get to fulfil my mom’s dreams and start new ones’

Returning to where we came in, one chapter is devoted to Mark Butcher, whose national and international cricket career spanned from 1992 to 2009. We learn that, like Pat Nevin, music had always been an important foundation in life for Butcher, who received his first guitar at age thirteen. After buying a Jimi Hendrix cassette tape for £1 at a motorway service station. His mind blown by Hendrix, the ex-cricketer vividly recalls watching Queen and Clapton at Live Aid in 1985. Now intent on emulating the sounds he heard, Butcher saved up for a Telecaster knock-off guitar. Recounting a remarkable, yet bittersweet and uproarious, life, Butcher opens his heart to the author and leaves little to the reader’s imagination. A revealing aspect comes when he is asked about the links between both his sporting and musical worlds and what uniquely joins them.

 ‘Rhythm. When I was playing (cricket), if I was in a good place, I would have a song in my head – and that would be the only thing in my head. Because thought is the enemy of being able to play – or at least it was for me. Time and rhythm are both things that apply in equal measures in both pursuits’. Mark Butcher

Inside this book lies a ton of information and it would have been easy for the author, Motez Bishara, to create a lot of factual information that didn’t gel together. However, the author has clearly done his research and, luckily for readers, Motez has considerable skill at conveying the various depths of each athlete/musician into a very readable and fascinating form. Every question asked is designed to open up more information to the reader, allowing valuable personal insights into their lives. In return, it’s clear that all of the athletes/musicians respected the author, allowing a sense of relaxing communication, without holding anything back.

The end result is a fascinating glimpse into the world of both those involved with professional sport and the world of musical creation.

First published by Joyzine.

Leave a Reply